By Adam Brady
There were plenty of key moments in Anaheim’s incredible comeback victory in the series-clinching Game 6 on Sunday night in Dallas, but Nick Bonino’s game-winner in overtime is an image that endures from that magical night.
Just under three minutes into overtime, Bonino snuck toward the net and wristed in an Andrew Cogliano feed to shock the Stars and trigger pandemonium for him and his teammates, who mobbed him against the glass.
“It’s tough to describe,” Bonino said today at Honda Center, two days after that astonishing win. “It’s almost like your mind goes blank. You’re just so happy. There’s euphoria, just pure happiness.”
It was a feeling Bonino has been able to experience on a few occasions, including last year’s playoffs, when he scored an OT game-winner to down the Red Wings in Game 5 at Honda Center.
“I remember last year, when I scored, I skated away from everyone,” he says with a smile. “This year, I’m hugging everyone. Fowls was the first one, then Patty and the rest of them. Everyone was yelling and hugging, facewashing me, grabbing me.”
You can go back another five years to another moment Bonino will never forget, during his days as a Boston University Terrier. In the NCAA title game against Miami (OH) Bonino scored the tying goal with just 17.4 seconds in regulation in a game BU would eventually capture in overtime.
“It’s tough to describe the emotion that’s in those celebrations, but it’s something we all love to experience,” Bonino says. “It’s when you’re at your most basic part of yourself. Just raw emotion.”
The fact that Bonino has been the centerpiece of those moments was not lost on Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "He has a knack, no matter how he's playing, good or bad but you put him out at the end because there's something about him that he's in the right position at the right time to make the right play," Boudreau said after Game 6. "That's what he's all about, so we put him out at the end and in overtime. I couldn't have scripted it any better."
Bonino, a voracious reader, said he saw Boudreau’s quote and was grateful for the praise. “It’s really nice for him to say that, and it’s nice that at this point in my career, people are able to say that about me,” Bonino said. “I don’t know how to explain it. I think there are cases where I’m in the right place at the right time, and the puck finds me. Both of my OT goals up here, and that game in college…”
Just then, an eavesdropping Saku Koivu walks by and cracks, ““You guys are talking about college?!”
Bonino briefly loses his train of thought and simply says, “They were great passes and I’ve just had to finish them. It’s nice.”
Overshadowed by the overtime strike is the goal Bonino scored with 2:10 left in regulation, without which the comeback may not have been possible. Left alone behind the Dallas net, Bonino received the puck and snuck out in front, somehow managing to flip it top shelf over frozen Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen from point blank range.
“I just got a little space behind the net and walked out,” he tells it. “We had a good pre-scout on Lehtonen from Roli (goaltending coach Dwayne Roloson) and knew that he’s so solid and we’d have a little opportunity to go upstairs on him. It happened so fast, that it didn’t really register. I just saw that there was a little opening. Sometimes the puck does what you want it to do, and that time it did.”
Yet, that was no time for jubilation, as the Ducks still had work to do to get even in the game. “You can see all of us happy, but our heads snapped right up to the scoreboard to see how much time was left,” he says. “Once we got that one, we still had that five-on-four (with the goalie pulled), so we knew we had a shot.”
They were proven right when when Devante Smith-Pelly punched in a loose puck with 24.0 seconds left in regulation, setting the stage for the latest round of Bonino heroics.
Bonino, however, is reluctant to rank this one against the others. “They’re all so different,” he says. “I will say that being able to score the goal that ends a series means a lot to me.”
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